by Mariashe Yentes
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay and Frieda Levin Dym
The holiday was a time of much anticipation and enjoyment. We went to schoolnot as a day of learning, but to assemble there with our teachers and to begin our hike to the forest (which the Smorgon Jews) named Litchnik. With much joy, we prepared everything the evening before, the food and the eggs--those colored eggs! The eggs were hard boiled with the shell together with an onion so they would turn yellow. If we wanted blue eggs, we would put a blue dye, shinka, in the water. We used that for our wash. If we wanted another color, we used paper of different colors and made such beautiful designs!
And, in addition, we needed to have a kasinke (headscarf). This was absolutely necessary for our outing. The kasinka had to be white, with 3 points, starched and stiff.
We came to school to prepare for such a festive and joyous holiday and we assembled in rows. We marched on Chasercher Gas (Pig street) and through the cemetery, passing the matzevas (tombstones), which made us feel sad and uneasy. Then over the railroad tracks. After a half an hour, we arrived in the thick of the forest.
If on the way we passed a peasant with his horse and wagon, we greeted him loudly and mocked him by shouting Pritzel (which means landowner). We started singing and pranking him to look under the wheels. If the peasant bent down and looked under his wagon, we started laughing and continued to sing. But when one of our teachers heard what was happening, we knew what to expect: he would reprimand us with harsh words.
|The nightingale chorus with A. Toker|
In the forest. Each teacher assembled their class and addressed the holiday, the uprising of the Bar Kochba and about Rabbi Akivah and his followers. The words were free, but the talmudists were divided.
Then we would gather around, and start singing song about Eretz Israel and we ended with dancing.
From a distance, we could see the peasants and the shiksas working in their fields, and we were envious of them: they were working their own fields and their own land, and we yearned to come to our own Eretz Israel, to work in our own fields and if need beto camp bravely like the Bar Kochba military amongst our own people.
by Beni Marshak
Translated by Sara Mages
In the winter of 1923 the first branch of HeHalutz Hatzair [Young Pioneer] was established in my hometown Smorgon. Its founders were the members: Pinchas Rashish (the mayor of Petah Tikva) and Aharon Berdyczewski a member of Kibbutz Yagur. Both arrived to the border district of Eastern Poland from faraway Warsaw to organize the Jewish youth for the doctrine and the theory of Zionism, and to prepare it for the revolutionary mission of the generation.
It's no coincidence that the first branch of the pioneering movement was founded in Smorgon. Masses of discouraged youth, who sought a new path in life, wandered in the city in the first years after the First World War. They clung to the Zionist-pioneering message that came to them from Israel. This fermentation of youth had deep roots in the history of the city of workers. The Bund movement was established in Smorgon, the Leather Workers Organization was founded and cells of workers gathered in the bakeries (the famous bagels). Also the proximity of Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lita, helped to bring the theory of the revolutionary activity. Moreover, the regime of the notorious
|1929, the Halutz federation in Smorgon|
Władysław Dominik Grabski in Poland, the corruption that has spread throughout the society, the suppression of the workers in general and the Jews in particular, the dispossession of the minorities from the economic positions - all of these served as the cause for the establishment of the revolutionary pioneering youth movements HeHalutz Hatzair and as a result of a transition of ages - HeHalutz.
The first organizers of HeHalutz Hatzair in the city, who expanded and deepened its ideological ideas, were the members: Zalman Alprovitz, Gita Brodny, Mordechai Cohen, the writer of these lines and others. The founding meeting was held in the Hekdesh which was in the ground of the Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of the city.
From the first days there was a feverish activity in the young branch. Every evening the house was crowded with groups of boys and girls, night owls, who talked about the events in Israel and in the movement. They clarified current issues, learned about the Jewish labor movement, studied the Hebrew language and waited impatiently to do the real work. In 1924, when the slogan of the pioneering movement in Poland: Pioneers for training and physical work was thrown in the Jewish street - it was like a note from the heavens for us in Smorgon. One feeling filled the hearts of the members - the desired moment, the time for expansion and fulfillment - has arrived. In the coming days more than thirty Halutzim [pioneers] left Smorgon for the first Hakhshara [pioneer training] points in the district - to the Maladečina Forests. Boys and girls, who have never held a tool in their hands - not a saw, not an axe and not an hatchet - are now clutching them in their hand and see them not as tools for physical labor but as spiritual-ideological conduits. Although the work was grueling, the trees of Maladečina Forests succumbed to the young Jewish men. The trees were cut down, sawn, sorted, and tied in bundles. On Saturdays, when one of the members visited the local chapter of HeHalutz, he inserted a new spirit, a spirit of joy and creativity, a sense of freedom and release from the anxiety which accumulated during the week. The visits of these tourists from the Hakhshara points in the forests created a tension in the hearts of the members. This stream of activities stretched and passed until it evoked every house in the city, startled it from its tranquility and incited its young sons.
Smorgon was fortunate that most of the members of the HeHalutz in the city immigrated to Israel during the limited immigration of 1924. Almost all of them joined the Work Battalion named after Joseph Trumpeldor. The letters, which came to the branches of HeHalutz and HeHalutz Hatzair, testified that the Smorgon group didn't embarrass their place of origin.
In those days, a joke circulated among the Hakhshara kibbutzim about the young men from Smorgon.
The Litvaks claimed that the young men from Smorgon weren't able to distinguish between right Shin and left Shin, and that they pronounced the name of their city Shmorgon not Smorgon.
This is the place to mention that our town was one of the few places in Poland that its young men and women, who joined HeHalutz and HeHalutz Hatzair, left for pioneering training and immigrate to Israel - didn't anger their parents. On the contrary, the parents showed sympathy to their children's actions and supported them as much as they could.
Not once the reading was delayed in the synagogue when the public found out that a pioneer from a needy family didn't have the financial means for his immigration to Israel. Needless to say that solution was found on the spot for that Halutz.
The pioneering movement in Smorgon also radiated its light on the city's Hebrew School Tarbut. This school was one of the most organized schools in the district and contained hundreds of students. The cooperation between the teachers and the pioneering movements was a blessing for both. This interaction existed for many years, and deepened the common values of the Tarbut movement and the pioneering movement.
All these years the city was poised towards the pioneering activity and lived in the movement's atmosphere. The glorious revolutionary tradition of Smorgon was renewed, and was transferred from the adults to the youth.
We can't forget that our city was destroyed for the first time during the First World War. Although it was almost rehabilitated at the beginning of the liberation of Poland, every Jew knew and felt that it was only a temporary fix, and that the Satan of extinction lay at the entrance to their home in the Diaspora. This premonition brought the positive attitude of the residents of Smorgon towards the pioneering movement.
In 1925, two members from Smorgon, Zalman Alprovitz zl and Beni Marshak, were drafted by central headquarters of the Halutz movement in Warsaw for the first national seminar. The first delegation from the Halutz federation in Israel participated in it, and its members were: Y. Trenkin, Tarshis and Zisling. When Zalman and I left for the seminar we continued our ties with the chapter in Smorgon. Two matters encouraged us: A) The affiliation of our members in the Work Battalion in Israel. B) The expansion of the branch in our hometown. At the end of the seminar we were sent to the Hakhshara's central points in Poland - Zalman to Shaharia and I to Klosowo.
During the three and a half years that I've stayed in Klosowo, I had the opportunity to meet Halutzim from my town who came to the Hakhshara.
I always wondered about the pioneering spirit that pulsed in them, their willingness to participate in missions and their strong will to overcome obstacles. Many of the Halutzim from Smorgon, who received their training in Klosowo, live to this day in kibbutzim in Israel.
The transformation of Kibbutz Klosowo into a permanent training point in the life of the movement in Poland caused my separation from the chapter in Smorgon but, I always knew what was happening in the chapter and followed its activities from afar.
|From the right: Y. Magdy, Herzl Antzlevitz, Eliezer Zipkin, Binyamin Gilinski, L. Danishevsky.
Sitting: S. Rodansky, M. Danishevsky, G. Weinstein, M. Weinstein.
My last visit to Smorgon was on 2 October, 1929, the day before I immigrated to Israel. I only had a few hours to say goodbye to the family that I haven't seen during my stay in Klosowo. I arrived secretly to my hometown to receive its blessing for the road - and said goodbye to my loved ones and to my friends clandestinely because the Polish authorities were looking for me. If they managed to find where I was, they would have delayed my immigration. On the next day I left Smorgon and crossed the border near Kopyczyńce in Poland. I left behind me a Jewish city and its inhabitants, a city of vision and action that was completely destroyed by the Nazi criminals. Among city's martyrs - the elderly, women and children - was my mother of blessed memory. My sister and her daughter, who managed to visit me in Israel in 1939, returned to liquidate their interests in order to return immediately to their son and their brother in Kibbutz Givat HaShlosha. They returned in August, and the war broke out in September 1939.
You can find the Smorgonim everywhere in the country: there are those who realize their aspiration in a kibbutz, and there are those who work in a city or in a village. Today, as in the past, they are spiritually united to the same original cause, to the same guideline in the history of Smorgon, and its unique sociological development within the Polish Jewry. The Halutzim of Smorgon wrote a special chapter in the Israeli wars. I will be content with one of many. The most noticeable is Mordechai Cohen zl, the son of the city's slaughterer. In 1923 he was one of the founders of HeHalutz movement in Smorgon. He was educated in a Zionist family, and was among the first who immigrate to Israel and joined the work battalion of Yosef Trumpeldor. Since his arrival to Israel he was an active member of the Haganah [The Defense] and a revered instructor and commander. In 1941, when the best young men in the country were called by Yitzhak Sadeh zl for operation Kaf Gimel Yordei Ha'Sira, it was clear that Motke will be one them. Their mission was to sabotage oil refineries in Syria. May his memory be blessed together with the memory of his friends who fell in the battles to liberate the State of Israel. May the right of Smorgon, whose streets were filled with the cheers of young fighting pioneers, will stand for us. We, the few survivors in Israel, will not shame the spirit of our ancestors and our daring friends - for the bright future of our position in our independent state.
by Tzvi Horovitz
Translated by Sara Mages
In the midst of the First World War (1915) all the Jews were expelled from the city. All of a sudden, by order of the military authorities, all of them became refugees. They left in a hurry and scattered across the cities of Russia and the Ukraine. Most of them remained in their new place of residence also after the war and at the beginning of the revolution. Terrible pogroms were carried out against the Jews during the exchange of regimes in the Ukraine. The war refugees, including the Jews of Smorgon, started to return to their homeland after the Bolshevik regime was established and reached a relative stability. They returned with their elderly, children and young men. When the youth, who grew up during the war and revolution and during the bloody pogroms against the Jews, returned to Smorgon they found it burned and desolated. They began to calculate their life and the question that pecked in their mind was: Is it possible to build a future here? Is it possible to plant a safe life here? Until when are we going to be sacrificed on the altar of regime changes!?
The youth began to organize itself for immigration to Israel. Of course, there were many obstacles in their new way. Their parents objected. They couldn't accept the idea that their sons and daughter will leave them, and more, that they will go to the desert and to an unpopulated country. They claimed: we wouldn't object if you wanted to go out into the big free world, immigrate to the United States or to Argentina, but it's a total madness to wander to the wasteland.
However, the young people's desire to build a homeland and the realization that the Jews had no future in Russia, were so strong that they didn't pay attention to their parents and nothing could have delayed or stopped them. Emissaries came to Smorgon from the central headquarters of the Halutz movement. They established branches, sent the members to Hakhshara [pioneer training], and after they completed their training season - they arranged their immigration to Israel.
Some of our members have completed all the stages of preparation, immigration certificates were obtained for them, and they, the lucky ones, immigrated to Israel. I remember the first letters that came from our members in Israel. We used to get together specially for the reading the letters. We read them seriously and swallowed every word like hot cakes. The desire to do the same throbbed in every heart, and each one of us wondered and asked himself - when will I be able to reach the land of our longings?
Slowly slowly the pioneering movement, which was a movement of a few brave and bold individuals, has become a national movement which encompassed almost all the Jewish youth. At that time, Hehalutz Hazair movement was established to fill the vacant places of those who left for pioneer training and immigrated to Israel.
The question of educating the children in the Zionist spirit arose, and as a practical answer it was decided to establish a Hebrew school which was called Tarbut School. Classes in Hebrew for adults were also opened. Here, I need to mention the dedicated diligent teacher, Gilinski zl, who devoted all of his energy to teaching the language in evening classes. Every Sabbath, after the reading of the Torah, he climbed on the synagogue's stage and asked the congregation not to interfere with their children's decision to immigrate to Israel.
Our activities also included the founding of the library. Over time, thanks to the devoted work of the librarian Rafael Weinstein, the library became known as the best and the largest in the Smorgon region. Sometime later, Zionist political parties were established among the youth like: Zeirei Zion, Hitachdut, Hashomer Hatzair and others. At times, the arguments between the members of the various political parties and their fans lasted till midnight. The youth found a purpose in life and an interesting content. Our influence started to show its signs in the Jewish street. Also the sedated elements within the community considered us, against their will, as a rising active force which took up a position in the public life.
I will mention two valuable activities that were executed by Zeirei Zion I was among their initiators.
A. In the municipal elections we wanted to enter one of our members to the city council. The delay was caused by the age requirement law. We faced a serious problem since we were younger than the required age, so, we turned to Mr. Potashnik who was a fan of our party. Since he was entitled to be elected under the regulations, we asked him if he would agree to be our candidate. He gave us his permission. We entered his name to our list, and thanks to the hard work of our members he was elected to the city council. It was a significant accomplishment for the pioneering movement in Smorgon. We can't forget that Smorgon was an industrial city, and the Bund movement was very strong even after the First World War. We had a hard and bitter struggle in the council with the members of the Bund who opposed to any Zionist activity.
B. The second activity was also important. With great effort we were able to penetrate the administration committee of Tarbut School. The committee was represented by conservative community dignitaries, and we weren't willing to accept the fact that the school wasn't managed according to the Zionist spirit.
Our decision was determined: we will spare no time and effort in order to enter into the committee that set the school's rules. What have we done? We consulted.
Since there were orphans in our city that their mothers couldn't pay their tuition at Tarbut School, which was relatively high, (at that time the Polish government didn't support the minorities' independent schools. Tarbut existed from the support of the community and from tuition fees), we committed ourselves to pay the tuition of these students. To obtain the necessary funds we got a job, a hard unskilled job - to clear the rubbish from the ruins which was plentiful in those days. We also recruited our friends for this purpose. After a hard struggle we received representation in the school administration, but in the eyes of the city's officials it was a bad thing. The old activists, who were rich in experience, didn't agree with the intervention and the penetration of the young people to their area of activities. We didn't give up and with the help of the teachers, who quarreled for us and fought our war, we entered our representative.
Gradually, step by step, we penetrated into the daily life of the community. Bit by bit we expanded our operations and entered the various areas that were in the hands of the community elders. Many of our rivals, the young members of the Bund or the P.P.S. - who objected the Zionist idea - joined our ranks. I will mention only one of them, and he is the member Yisrael Rappaport zl. He was an educated man who fought against the idea of the rebirth of the nation Israel in its ancient-new homeland. Eventually, he was convinced that we were right. He became active in our movement and helped us a lot.
We set up Hakhshara points, which were managed by volunteers, near Smorgon. Our member Beni Marshak (today a member of Kibbutz Givat HaShlosha), was sent by HeHalutz to a seminar in Warsaw, and was absent from his home for a long time. One day he came home to visit his family. I, as a member of HeHalutz committee, came to his home in the morning to clarify a number of issues, but, I didn't find him. The young man was gone. I asked his mother Where is Beni? She told me that he went to bed with the rest of the family, and when they woke up in the morning they didn't find him in his bed and the bedroom window was wide open. Apparently he left the house through the window because he didn't want to wake us by closing the door behind him.
There was a Hakhshara kibbutz in Soly. I traveled to Soly and found him there. He walked the whole way and came to visit the kibbutz.
When our movement grew and became stronger, the question of funding stood before us in all of its severity. Among the members of the Hakhshara were young men who didn't have the necessary funds to immigrate to Israel. There were also those who came from affluent families but their parents,
who objected to their children's immigration, clenched their fists and refused to give them the expenses for the long journey. In those days, the Jewish Agency for Israel didn't cover the expenses of those who immigrated to Israel. This was the common practice: if, for example, the branch received twenty five immigration certificates and the numbers of candidates, who were ready for immigration, was larger, then, those who had the financial means were favored over the poor. We opposed this unjust arrangement. We said that the members should immigrate according to their place in line, if they had the financial means or not. Therefore, we started to look for ways to obtain the financial means, and here, an idea flashed in our mind - to establish an amateur drama group: we will present plays, sell tickets, and with the money we'll finance the immigration. We cooperated with all the Zionist parties. We invited an actor from Vilna to instruct the amateur actors. At first we presented light skits, and then we proceeded to serious plays. Of course, apart from the instructor, all the work was done voluntarily. Even the hall was given to us free of charge by a school called Internet.
I consider it my duty to mention our member, Mordechai Cohen zl, who was the son of Smorgon's slaughterer. He successfully played the main role in Victor Hugo's drama before his immigration to Israel. At the end of the play, the Polish police officer, who was present at the show, shook his hand and thanked him profusely for his wonderful acting.
He immigrated to Israel in 1926, and was one of the excellent commanders of the Haganah [The Defense]. During the Second World War he was one of the 23 members of the Haganah [Kaf Gimel Yordei Ha'Sira] who left for a military mission on behalf of the country and didn't return. May his memory be blessed.
We presented a play each time we needed money to finance the immigration of our members. We informed the public in advance that we'll use the proceeds to finance the immigration of our members, and the hall was always full. There was always someone in the city council that was willing to help us to obtain a license for the shows.
Finally, I would like to dedicate a few lines of thanks and recognition to the memory of Rabbi Plutkin ztl, who served as the town's rabbi in the period before the outbreak of the Second World War. He helped us a lot with our pioneering work, and despite his poor health he always came to the train station to bless the Halutzim who immigrated to Israel with Tefilat HaDerech [traveler's prayer]. Even the Halutz meetings were held in his home. He was admired by all the residents of Smorgon, and was always ready to help them before the local authorities who valued him. May his memory be blessed.
The full name of the teacher is Yehudah Leib Gilinski. He was born in 1873 and came to Smorgon in 1893. He immigrated to Israel in 1925. In 1927 he traveled to the United States to visit his father but he didn't live to return to Israel. In 1936 he died of a brain hemorrhage that caused to him by a Jew who claimed that the Israelis dispossessing the Arabs of their lands. He got angry when he heard these words of slander - and died.
by Y. Bankover
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I went through those days under unique circumstances and unusual conditions. There were the conditions of a new place, and questions of acclimatization in all areas. My time and my head were not free. Nevertheless, throughout the entire time from the time of Zalman's death I do not forget his image even for a moment.
Zalman passes before my eyes from the first day that I knew him. This was in Smorgon, when I came for my first visit after I arrived in the Vilna District. I found an active chapter there with vibrant youth full of enthusiasm Zalman among them. He stood out already at that time, serving as an example to many who moved on to a life of actualization. The news that I received at all times from Smorgon validated my opinion: Zalman was among the active ones who urged others to action. I met him in the seminary in Warsaw after some time: he had grown up, he was exuding pleasantness and a thirst for knowledge. I did not have a chance to know him from up close. I took leave of him on my journey to the Land with only this first impression.
In the Land, news reached us about the permanent Hachsharah movement, about Klosowa and Shacharia, as a symbol and a path. Zalman was among the activists and the living spirit of Shacharia. He and his friends inaugurated the Fifth Aliya for which we had awaited so greatly and prayed for its advent. The meeting point between the previous aliya and the new aliya was not simple, and went through constant struggle over mutual influence and acclimatization. Not only did the newcomers face the task of getting used to the conditions of reality in the Land, but first, and foremost the penetration of the new spirit of maximal actualization that they, the newcomers, brought with them. The question that concerned and worried all of us was: how will the aliyot meet: from mutual understanding, or from a deepening chasm? Therefore, our meeting with the Fifth Aliya was accompanied by a blend of joy and trepidation: joy for the newcomers, for those who were continuing the path in faithfulness and trepidation for the means of acclimatization. For us, the people of Hakovesh, the meeting with Shacharia and its founding kernel headed by Zalman was a meeting of encouragement, mutual learning, and movement-based understanding. We knew days of mutual struggle as well as the joy of mutual life and creativity.
Years, many years passed. The path was long: from the young group during the days of the Fourth Aliya in Kfar Saba to the period of settlement in Ramat Hakovesh a very long, difficult path of becoming independent, achievements, overcoming, and growing up as well as days of obstacles. We knew our stance on Hebrew labor in the moshava, and our group suffered in this battle. We tasted the taste of abandonment, with all the depression that comes with such. Those were years of great efforts, debates on the time of our transfer to Ramah (i.e. Ramat Hakovesh), on transferring the children, and on leaving the moshava.
The dispute was stormy at times, fraught with serious differences of opinion. Zalman participated in all these deliberations, not only with advice and recommendations, but also with personal dedication and boundless readiness for actualization. From the first bunk in Ramah that served as both the dining hall and dormitory, to the well that we dug (we dug but did not reach water), to the fortified, firmly-based point as Ramat Hakovesh was in those days it was one long chain of communal efforts. He, Zalman, was among the activists and responsible ones in all of these. He was always prepared to participate in bearing the yoke. He did not evade the work and impose it on others he always served as a personal example of readiness. During the years of the disturbances, when everyone and everything was involved in the bloody battle that Ramah was tried with, Zalman was given the concern for day-to-day communal life of the group. In that too, as always, he excelled as a member who bore the burden under all conditions, prepared to carry out the most difficult and responsible tasks. Thus did he go among us throughout all the year, until the illness afflicted him.
He already felt the illness before he went out on a mission to Poland but he was not subdued, for in his life he never knew what sickness was. He regarded all sickness and ill people as if a spoiled, delicate individual. Before leaving for the Diaspora, during the times that we guarded the orchard together, we discussed meeting at the upcoming congress. I would come from the Land, and he from Poland. We wove joint plans of visits and meetings in the countries of the Diaspora. I arrived at the congress, but did not find Zalman there. The illness had begun to overcome him, and he remained in a convalescent home in Poland after a difficult operation. I received a greeting from him, worrisome about his state of health, but joyous regarding his work in Łódź he was an exemplary comrade responsible, dedicated and beloved by the entire group. I decided to visit him in Poland on my way back to the Land. However, the war broke out, and my plan was canceled.
About a month later, Zalman arrived in the Land, as the first of the emissaries [to return]. He was broken in body, with worrisome signs of illness on his face. He battled his illness for more than a year, and never made peace with the fact that he, Zalman, could be ill. He laughed at illness all the years, and did not understand what illness is, for he was very, very strong in body throughout all the years. He suffered unusual suffering throughout that year. He moved from the hospital to a convalescent home, and then to his home, as his illness progressed. He was powerless to stop it as it ate away his body. With our eyes, we saw death on his face. Great was the sorrow of the group, who did not want to come to terms with the fact that he would leave us and not return.
In the latter period, it was difficult to visit him both at the hospital or at home. I refrained from doing so, for I did not want to arouse words or thoughts with him about his illness or his situation. I went to bid farewell to him before I left for afar. By chance, I found him in good spirits, as the pain had abated. He asked about my work and my plans. He took great interest in all questions of the movement. When I parted from him, he extended his hand to me with difficulty, for it was all bones. He said to me, I have heard that you will return here in about three months. During this time,
I will certainly get better, for the great pain that I have and the frequent attacks are a sign of impending recovery. And then... I grasped his weak hand and agreed with his recommendation, even though I had only a faint hope in my heart that we would merit to such a meeting.
I received the news of his passing about six days into my journey. I do not know about his final moments of life. I was far, far from home, but very close. Close and participating in the grief of the group over the great tragedy that overtook us. Our cemetery, which had taken in so many good and dear male and female members over the last few years took in one more of the best and most dedicated among us. There is no comfort for the group, only grief and great feelings of loneliness afflicting me, for I am together with the entire group in mourning the death of our Zalman.
I write these lines here in haste, and under conditions not conducive to writing almost lying down, and with very weak light. I hope that these lines will reach you at the Shloshim of the death of Zalman, and will join with the words of appreciation that will be delivered by the members who lived and worked together with our faithful and dedicated Zalman.
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